Covid-19 and contact between children and separated parents

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has been clear that children under the age of 18 are permitted to move between their parents’ homes to ensure they are able to continue to spend time with both parents. Additionally, households have been allowed to form “support bubbles” and “childcare bubbles”.

You are not alone. If you need advice or assistance in establishing the best way forward, we can help you.

Bubbles

A support bubble is when you link two households so you are considered as being in one household. Not everyone is eligible to form a support bubble and your child’s age is relevant.

You can check your eligibility on the government’s website. 

In contrast, a childcare bubble is when one household is permitted to link itself with one other household to provide informal childcare to anyone under the age of 14. Again, you can find out more about childcare bubbles, on the government’s website.

The “bubbles” do not necessarily have to be with family members and include overnight care (so grandparents can see their grandchildren if they feel safe to do so). You can be a part of both bubbles at the same time.

With the above guidance and additional support, this means that, where possible, existing arrangements for children with separated parents should continue to be followed. However, we appreciate that it is not always so simple. 

Following child arrangements in a “normal” world can be difficult at the best of times. Trying to comply with existing arrangements, or agreeing new arrangements in the middle of a pandemic (on top of working from home, homeschooling and trying to keep your children occupied for what seems like an increasing number of hours in a day), can seem impossible.

Examples of contact arrangements

Generally, it is in the children’s best interests to maintain contact so there is “stability” and “continuity” in their lives. However, we know in real life there are numerous things that can prevent this. A few recurring examples we have faced during the pandemic in relation to contact arrangements include:

Location – It has been difficult for some parents to maintain a normal routine where they are still residing with their own elderly parents (who are more vulnerable to the virus). It is a balancing exercise of keeping the elderly safe but also maintaining contact between children and their parents. This has been especially difficult with the cold weather settling in and the entertainment and hospitality sector being closed. 

Some parents have agreed that contact will take place at one household (where they are able to maintain an amicable relationship). Some parents have looked to increase contact through other means, such as more video calls during the week.

Work commitments –  A number of “keyworkers” have not had the opportunity to work from home (albeit working from home comes with its own array of challenges). For several “keyworker” parents, their exposure to the virus has resulted in contact arrangements being brought to a halt (temporarily) or reduced significantly. Again, to maintain contact, some parents have looked to increase video calls or limiting contact to the outdoors.

Child maintenance – With the number of businesses being closed for a large part of 2020, and still being closed under the current lockdown, parents have been unable to financially support their children in the same manner. 

Many employees have had the benefit of the furlough scheme, where they have not been made redundant, and self-employed individuals have received government grants (subject to eligibility). The Child Maintenance Service (the body governing child maintenance payments) has been sympathetic to the situation but, in real terms, it means that there has been little financial support to help parents during the pandemic. 

Mental health concerns – It is no secret that the pandemic has affected people’s mental health and well-being. No one is immune to the effect the pandemic has had. Unfortunately, for some parents, their own anxieties have led to them terminating contact between the children and the other parent. 

In some instances, this has led to the children also feeling anxious. For some parents, contact has been resumed following the first lockdown in Spring 2020 but others have had no choice but to take further action.

The above are only a few examples of the problems we have been helping clients overcome throughout the pandemic. You are not alone. If you need advice or assistance in establishing the best way forward, we can help you.

Do I need a Court Order?

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a Court Order to resolve matters. You can informally reach an agreement and for reassurance, record the terms in a Parenting Plan. 

What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a written plan which covers contact arrangements and practical parenting issues. It is not binding in the same way as a Court Order, but it often assists separated parents with keeping to an agreed schedule. You can read more about a Parenting Plan and download a working copy from the Cafcass website. 

If you are unable to resolve the issues voluntarily, we can also advise you on how the matter can be brought to the court’s attention. 

 

Birkett Long’s divorce and separation lawyers are members of Resolution. Even if proceedings are issued, we are committed to promoting a constructive approach to family issues that considers the needs of the whole family.

If you would like some advice or assistance in relation to family issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch for an initial free consultation. You can contact me at farrah.harvey-nawaz@birkettlong.co.uk or on 01245 453818.

 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.